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How Does Family Environment Affect Health Across the Lifespan? Shelley E. Taylor University of California, Los Angeles May 2008.

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Presentation on theme: "How Does Family Environment Affect Health Across the Lifespan? Shelley E. Taylor University of California, Los Angeles May 2008."— Presentation transcript:

1 How Does Family Environment Affect Health Across the Lifespan? Shelley E. Taylor University of California, Los Angeles May 2008

2 A lifespan model of the impact of threat responses on mental and physical health outcomes Early Environment Childhood SES Early Family Environment Genetic Predispositions Serotonin System Dopamine System Others Psychosocial Resources Social Support Optimism Mastery Self-Esteem Neural Responses to Threat Anterior Cingulate Cortex Amygdala Hypothalamus Prefrontal Cortex Psychological, Autonomic, Neuroendocrine, and Immune Responses to Threatening Circumstances Mental and Physical Health Risks Chronic Negative Affect Anxiety Depression Hostility Coping Responses Approach Avoidant

3 Developmental origins of responses to threat Early environment affects health not only in childhood but throughout adulthood into old age, controlling for other risk factors Early environment affects health not only in childhood but throughout adulthood into old age, controlling for other risk factors Childhood SES predicts health outcomes, controlling for adult SES Childhood SES predicts health outcomes, controlling for adult SES A harsh early family environment (conflict, cold, and/or neglectful, hereafter referred to as “risky families”) predicts adverse health outcomes A harsh early family environment (conflict, cold, and/or neglectful, hereafter referred to as “risky families”) predicts adverse health outcomes

4 Risky Families Questionnaire (Sample Items) 1. How often did a parent or other adult in the household make you feel that you were loved, supported, and cared for? 2. How often did a parent or other adult in the household swear at you, insult you, put you down, or act in a way that made you feel threatened? 3. How often did a parent or another adult in the household express physical affection for you, such as hugging or other physical gesture of warmth and affection?

5 Relation of Adverse Childhood Experiences and Risk of Major Chronic Diseases Health Problem Amount of Abuse Adjusted Odds Ratio Health Problem Amount of Abuse Adjusted Odds Ratio Ischemic Ischemic heart disease heart disease or more or more 2.2 Total --- Total --- Any cancer Any cancer or more or more 1.9 Total --- Total --- Stroke Stroke or more or more 2.4 Total --- Total --- (Felitti et al., 1998)

6 Specific mechanisms What are the mechanisms that underlie these relations, i.e. by what routes are the effects of early environment maintained? We focus on: Alterations in Biological Stress Regulatory Systems (Study 1) Alterations in Biological Stress Regulatory Systems (Study 1) Neural regulation of stress responses (Study 2) Neural regulation of stress responses (Study 2)

7 Study 1 Question: Does Early Environment Affect Biological Stress Regulatory Systems? Procedure Participants: 92 students aged 18-25, prescreened for medical and psychological problems Participants: 92 students aged 18-25, prescreened for medical and psychological problems Participated in laboratory stress task of counting backwards as rapidly as possible by 13s from 9,095 Participated in laboratory stress task of counting backwards as rapidly as possible by 13s from 9,095 Taylor, S.E., Lerner, J.S., Sage, R.M., Lehman, B. J., & Seeman, T. E. (2004).

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9 Results Harsh early environment is associated with an elevated flat trajectory of cortisol responses to stress Harsh early environment is associated with an elevated flat trajectory of cortisol responses to stress

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11 Results Among males only, very harsh family environment is associated with elevated heart rate and blood pressure. Among males only, very harsh family environment is associated with elevated heart rate and blood pressure.

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13 Conclusions A harsh early family environment is associated with compromised biological responses to threat and poorer self-rated health. A harsh early family environment is associated with compromised biological responses to threat and poorer self-rated health. Provides potential mechanism for long term health effects of early family environment (allostatic load). Provides potential mechanism for long term health effects of early family environment (allostatic load).

14 Study 2 Family environment and coping Children from risky families show Children from risky families show High levels of avoidant coping High levels of avoidant coping Overly aggressive responses to stressors perceived by others to be only moderately challenging Overly aggressive responses to stressors perceived by others to be only moderately challenging Ineffective coping (Coping that does not reduce experienced stress) Ineffective coping (Coping that does not reduce experienced stress) Question: Any neural evidence for these processes? Question: Any neural evidence for these processes?

15 Brain candidates for regulation of stress responses Amygdala, tied to threat detection and fear responses Amygdala, tied to threat detection and fear responses RVLPFC (right ventrolateral prefrontal cortex), believed to regulate amygdala responses to threat RVLPFC (right ventrolateral prefrontal cortex), believed to regulate amygdala responses to threat

16 Participants 30 healthy, right-handed adults, age (12 men, 18 women) 30 healthy, right-handed adults, age (12 men, 18 women) Participants responded to 3 tasks in blocked, randomized design (Observe Only, Label Emotions, Label Gender) Participants responded to 3 tasks in blocked, randomized design (Observe Only, Label Emotions, Label Gender)

17 Observe onlyLabel emotionsLabel gender (Control Task)

18 In the observe only task, offspring from harsh environments show significantly lower amygdala activity, suggesting they are tuning out the stimuli

19 Results from labeling task Amygdala responses of those from harsh families significantly higher than those from nurturant families Amygdala responses of those from harsh families significantly higher than those from nurturant families RVLPFC activity significantly negatively correlated with amygdala responses in low RF families; significantly positively correlated in high RF families RVLPFC activity significantly negatively correlated with amygdala responses in low RF families; significantly positively correlated in high RF families

20 r =.66 r = -.44

21 What do these results mean? Offspring from risky families may shut out threatening cues with which they do not need to engage Offspring from risky families may shut out threatening cues with which they do not need to engage When forced by task demands to engage, amygdala response is stronger When forced by task demands to engage, amygdala response is stronger Offspring from risky families do not recruit RVLPFC effectively for regulating amygdala responses to threatening stimuli Offspring from risky families do not recruit RVLPFC effectively for regulating amygdala responses to threatening stimuli

22 Conclusions Growing up in a risky family environment marked by harsh parenting has effects on neural processes involved in threat detection and regulation of responses to threat Growing up in a risky family environment marked by harsh parenting has effects on neural processes involved in threat detection and regulation of responses to threat Offspring from risky families may not have effective threat detection and emotion regulation skills for coping with stressful circumstances Offspring from risky families may not have effective threat detection and emotion regulation skills for coping with stressful circumstances Taylor, S. E., Eisenberger, N. I., Saxbe, D., Lehman, B. J., & Lieberman, M. D. (2006). Biological Psychiatry, 60,


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